I learned about Hope Never Dies from Twitter, and am I ever glad I did. I don’t read a lot of spoofs and parodies, but when I do, I like to read ones like Andrew Shaffer’s. It is delightful.
Joe Biden has been out of office for a while now, and while his former friend Barack is living the high celeb life, old Joe is … well, feeling his age. His life gets shaken up when, one day, an Amtrak conductor Joe knew from his days of riding those rails turns up dead under mysterious circumstances. Barack warns Joe that this conductor might have been targeting Joe for some reason … and slowly, the two of them, plus Barack’s Secret Service bodyguard, are drawn into a criminal conspiracy that stretches as far as the suburbs of Wilmington, Delaware. Along the way, there are car chases, gun fights, and serious bro discussions about friendship.
Look, Real Talk™ for a moment. Barack Obama was an historic president for his race and other reasons, yes, and like every single President of the United States, he is also hugely problematic. Being a Black Democratic President did not make him immune from controversial decisions, strategies, and executive orders. Remember how Gitmo was going to be closed? How about those drone strikes? So, in endorsing and enjoying this book, I’m not here to lionize Obama’s legacy or endorse the idea that another old white guy should have been the Democratic nominee instead of Hillary Clinton. Hope Never Dies works precisely because it is a parody piece. It imagines a dafter, lighter universe in which Barack and Biden are buddy-buddies, able to engage in this kind of odd-couple road mystery comedy shenanigans.
And, really really, I just really needed this at this moment in history, and I am certain I’m not alone. Full disclosure: I’m not American, I’m Canadian (and white, and a man), so I’m very insulated from a lot of the bizarro universe stuff that’s happening south of my border. To be fair, though, my province (Ontario) just elected Donald Trump Lite (Doug Ford) and his Progressive Conservative government has, in a few weeks, already begun to run rough-shod over anything remotely socialist or progressive within our province.
I’ve really avoided watching darker TV shows lately. I have so many Black Mirror episodes to watch, but I just can’t. I can’t handle that darkness. The best I can do is Good Girls, which is so brilliant; mostly I’ve just watched reruns of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and other extremely humorous, light-hearted shows. I need that in my life.
I need to know that hope never dies.
Shaffer nails Biden’s characterization, or at least, as someone who knows literally nothing about Joe Biden beyond the fact that he was the Vice President of the United States, I think Shaffer nails it. He has clearly done his research. Biden’s voice sounds exactly like one might imagine from an older Democratic politician from Delaware. His similes and metaphors are on point, as is the way he interprets and navigates the world around him. In other words, Shaffer didn’t just take a generic “amateur sleuth” character template and paste Joe Biden’s name and profile features onto it: he took the time to really make this main character feel like a credible simulacrum of the public persona of Joe Biden.
Similarly, I really enjoyed the way Shaffer portrays Obama. Remember that this is all through Faux-Biden’s first-person perspective, and as such is unreliable. Barack comes off as a bit of a know-it-all! He constantly corrects, interjects, and explains at length when no one asked a question. He’s the guy who knows something about everything, and he can’t help but tell you about it.
Honestly, the mystery was the least attractive element. The climax sort of sneaks up on you, and the villain is a bit of a stretch. It makes sense, and I guess in some ways it’s a trope of the genre, but it’s one of those things that I either missed the signposts for, or else the turn-off was buried between two legitimate exits and I never had a chance. But I didn’t come here for the mystery. I came for Barack and Joe’s bromance, and this book delivers.
Hope Never Dies is far from the best spoof I’ve read, but it is good enough. And for its purpose, that is enough. If, like me, you briefly want to live in a universe where Barack Obama and Joe Biden drive a suped-up Escalade and then talk about their feelings, then you should read this book.